When I write I’m chronicling the collision points between work and life, the points where things don’t quite fit the way they were meant to. I get into the mechanics of it, the how’s and why’s. Generally I don’t get into the emotional components because I’m so analytically oriented in my thinking and writing. This doesn’t mean that there’s not huge emotional components to every one of these collision points. One of the biggest is disappointment. Disappointment can be really frustrating. It kills our mood and makes moving forward to seemingly fruitless.
Why do we get disappointed? At the root it’s because expectations aren’t being met. This happens in every area of our life. Some are specific to just home. It’s typically interactions with family and friends. With family it’s all about the family script. No matter if you are dealing with a parent, sibling, spouse, or child there are behavior patterns and expectations associated with those relationships. These can be hugely frustrating because they are emotional entitlements. Why didn’t my mother get me this thing we need? Why didn’t my sister spend more time here instead of running home to the husband who doesn’t like me?!? It’s countless questions like these that lead to disappointments. The entitlement mentality with relationships comes from the fact that these relationships are lifelong and in many cases unbreakable. It’s hard to reconcile that if you were inseparable as children that there is someone else your sibling is now inseparable with. It’s hard to not expect a parent to provide when they spent the first few decades of your life providing for every one of your needs.
There are other disappointments that are specific just to work. It’s the project you are responsible for that fails or maybe a pet project doesn’t get the green light. The quintessential work related disappointment is the promotion that didn’t happen. Work disappointments can be big things like not getting raises and getting transferred to a horrible boss or little things like having to move from a workspace you didn’t know you loved until you had to move. The point is that it’s the flip side of the mostly relationship oriented disappointments from the household.
The connecting tissue between work and the rest of your life is that work has a huge impact on financial resources and time availability. In this point work has the ability to be an accelerant to the disappointment you may have with things you usually experience outside of work thus creating larger levels of disappointment in your life. The lack of a promotion doesn’t lead to a move so you don’t get to be closer or further away from the family members in the way you want. In not getting that raise, you’re in debt that much longer or possibly not able to get your dream vehicle. This can be true even if your dream vehicle happens to be something has theoretically as easy to acquire as a 20 year old used Miata. It’s not just money. If the project is a failure then someone has to pick up the pieces, one way or another. Potentially this could mean you have to work twice as hard with less time at home. I could go on and on with nearly limitless examples. As the professional class is whittled down by corporate anorexia and displaced by artificial intelligence, then these types of disappointments will happen more and more frequently.
Disappointment happens. It’s simply part of the human condition. It happens at home, and it happens at work. Generally it’s work that can enhance the disappointment in other areas of your life and unless you have fallen into a virtuous cycle in your professional life, something that happens less and less, then you will be disappointed more as you move through your career. So how do you deal with this professional equivalent of a rainy Saturday?
I’ve found rules for managing disappointment is really about setting expectations for yourself. Some of the hardest disappointment has to do with when you’re disappointed in yourself. That’s because the goals you set for yourself aren’t being met. I’m familiar with this first hand. I’m very disappointed in the performance of my blog and the performance of podcast. Not the content, that’s getting better and better all the time. It’s the listeners and readers. If you’re hearing this on the show or if you’re reading it on the blog you’re one of the few. My audience is measured in hundreds not tens of thousands as I expected it would be at this point. The performance of my writing and my show has had the unintended effect of moderating my expectations for the performance of my book, assuming I can never get it out. My new goal is just to sell a few books, maybe one or two. Since my goal is to sell two books I doubt I’ll be disappointed in the performance of that. I think that’s the secret, moderating expectations to the point where your expectation is nothing except effort means any benefit realized from your effort will not ever be disappointing.
You could argue that the perspective I have is a bit dark, I admit it that it is. But disappointment is everywhere and not just for me. No matter if it’s a static stock market or lack of opportunities at work it affects a huge component of my generation. Xers, the generation that grew up in the 80s and 90s were promised great upwardly mobile income-producing jobs that would allow us to invest successfully long term if we followed the rules of going to school and working hard. None of that happened for us on a macro level. The disappointments continue to zing as we move further and further into the great market correction of Generation X. These types of disappointments can become imbalanced compared to the things that usually balance them off i.e. the positive work and life experiences.
Although not scientific, my thesis in a generation that’s experiencing a higher than normal level of disappointments has some evidence backing it up with the millenials. If when growing up the emotional and visceral observations of millennial’s are that life is difficult and not getting better, is it any wonder that a greater percentage of them by far are prioritizing life experiences over accomplishments? I see more evidence in the medical establishment’s love affair with prescription drugs for all ailments. Many have claimed that we are experiencing an addiction of epidemic proportions with prescribed antidepressants, which technically simply don’t work.
Even if my theory about a generation saddled with larger than typical disappointments is incorrect, disappointments are still a fact of everyone’s life. Sadly lower expectations or even non-existent expectations are the way to go if you find that you are constantly disappointed in your life’s journey. It’s the old phrase hope for the best but plan for the worst. Realistically, nobody will ever stop being disappointed because the unintended will always happen, but you definitely can get better at managing it. All that being said, I hope you don’t find my conclusion that it’s safest to maintain very low expectations in your life too disappointing. That wasn’t my intent, but writing is a bit like life. Sometimes things just don’t turn out like you intended.
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Generally, adversity strengthens, complacency weakens. In reducing your expectations, I don’t know that you should think of it as having created low expectations for yourself so much as your expectations have come into the realm of reality in a changing, often fickle world. MIndfulness can be a wonderful thing – change how you think about expectations. Would you be more truthful with yourself if the expectation was focused more on the experience of writing the book and not measured by sales of the book?
Yes, but only if you include the total experience of writing the book, inclusive of editing, and publishing, even if it’s just self publishing. At that point selling is immaterial, the conclusion of the experience is the expectation and then can be celebrated. That’s definitely where I’m coming to… but sometimes it hard to let go of the older expectations or they show up again when you thought you did let go of them.